By Henry Ojelu
Few years ago, Olawale Ayilara set out to achieve what many thought was impossible – build the biggest real estate company in Nigeria. Faced with zero-capital in a highly capital-intensive sector, the young entrepreneur trudged on undeterred with his biggest personal assets -integrity, hardwork and tenacity. Today, Ayilara’s company, Landwey has one of the largest asset base in the real estate sector. In 2018, he made the list of Forbes Africa under 30 achievers. In this interview, he shares his inspiring journey to success.
I was born and raised in Abeokuta within an average environment. As one of eight children, I had an average learning experience from primary, secondary and university education. My father was an engineer and my mother, a businesswoman and they ensured that we all had basic education. The value of integrity was ingrained in us from a young age and it stuck.
What childhood experience shaped who you have become today?
Everything in the past pointed to the present. As far back as secondary school, I realised early enough that I was not cut out for the 9-5 white collar job because I have a restless spirit. I went ahead to study Petroleum and Petrochemical Sciences because it was what was expected of me. The basic professional fields that I was exposed to was that of the legal, accounting, medical and engineering fields and naturally, I towed the line because I could not clearly define and state what I wanted. At that age, I had no idea what being an entrepreneur was about and the term, Businessman, did not appeal to my parents.
My first stint in entrepreneurship was a coaching centre in Abeokuta, Ogun State which I ran even while I was a student myself. The coaching center wasn’t as successful as I had hoped but it offered me some beginner lessons in starting and running a business. Then I forayed into music when I moved to Lagos to try to study for my O’Levels by starting a musical band, which was also unsuccessful.
Eventually, I got admission into the university and I put my new found skill in entrepreneurship to work. I started and ran one of the biggest organisations on campus at the time called Beyond School Initiative, a vocational training program which trained over 3,600 students. This was my first successful project as an entrepreneur. Once I had a taste of success, there was no turning back. Starting and running businesses became my turf and all I had to do was to build more capacity. I always believed that opportunities would come to those who were most prepared, so I put in the hard work even when no one noticed.
What were some of the challenges you faced growing up?
Growing up, I saw the struggle the youths around me faced in trying to get the white-collar job, so I had said to myself I was going to venture into entrepreneurship and be successful. I ventured into entrepreneurship because of a desire to be more and do more. I was dissatisfied with my financial state at the time and wanted to experience financial freedom while providing opportunities to create new jobs. This was further cemented by my absolute disinterest in the regular 9-5 job (which wasn’t even promised as several college graduates around me couldn’t even secure one.)
What was the inspiration behind your choice of profession?
Consulting for a company who operated within the real estate sector years back made me see the lapses in the industry. Lapses such as trustworthiness, government issues and acquiring legitimate land documents. These are the problems Landwey Investment Limited solves. My ability to see an opportunity to solve a problem is what birthed Landwey Investment Limited.
What does your company(s) really do and what milestones have you achieved so far?
We are one of the fastest-growing real estate investment companies who create opportunities for corporates and individuals in Nigeria’s Real Estate Sector within the commercial, retail and residential property segment and provide real estate advisory services. We have one of the biggest asset base in the Nigerian Real Estate sector and are constantly innovating and putting structures in place to facilitate our clients in the purchase of property. We initiated WEYMONEY to facilitate clients’ access to funds. We have gone into several partnerships, one of which is WEYVEST, the LandWey Investment Ltd and PiggyVest (an online savings and investment platform) partnership. This partnership would help to bridge the existing gap in the housing deficit in the country and accessibility especially among the low- and middle-income earners. We have also won real estate Excellence Awards. These are some of many milestones we have achieved thus far.
You are young and successful. How did you come this far within a short period?
I stayed relentless! The company was founded on trust and integrity, which is a major key factor.
In 2018, you were listed in the Forbes Africa under30 class of CEOs. How was the experience for you?
It was an amazing feeling. Meeting other young entrepreneurs from Africa, learning from entrepreneurs from different climes and business environments was an experiential and wonderful experience.
You recently held a real estate event in Dubai. What was the purpose of the event and what did it accomplish?
Our Annual Realtors mid-year conference in Dubai was set to discuss Real Estate Industry Trends and Business Insights. The event is an annual conference being organized as a medium for continued development for our realtors, in sales and in the real estate profession.
The realtors were enlightened on how to get their businesses ready for the next disruption and how to discover their most valuable market opportunities.
What were some of the challenges you faced in real estate business and how did you overcome them?
LandWey started with zero capital and less than 12 staff. My major challenge was raising the funds I needed to acquire the first property. The funds never came and the possibility of starting the company was slim. However, I plowed on and got the owners to buy into my intergrity and the LandWey dream, to trust me with their property without an initial financial commitment. Today we have over 10 projects within the space of two years, our staff strength has grown to 40 and no loan till date.
What would you say was the most important key to your success?
The continuous strive for excellence.
Who is your mentor and why? What role has mentorship played in your success?
I am inspired by people who have run successful businesses for 30 years and over. I also have role models, some of which are Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola to mention a few. The Steadfastness that successful business people have, enabling them to stand the test of time in a competitive and challenging business environment motivates me.
What are your guiding principles?
Why do you think Nigerian entrepreneurs are not doing well and how can they improve?
Nigerian entrepreneurs need to put more effort into research and ensure quality services are rendered which meet globally acceptable standards.
What would be your advice to upcoming entrepreneurs hoping to be successful like you?
Be highly committed and tenacious, no matter how many times you fail, rise immediately and don’t give up.